From Business Bull to Mickey Mouse, USF alumnus’ HR career journey is dream come true
Brian McComak's career in human resources has allowed him to experience the glamorous side of business, whether witnessing the sale of a $120-plus million Picasso painting or appearing onstage as charity auctioneer with celebrities.
Now, the former vice president, Human Resources, for Christie's Auction House and 1997 Muma College of Business alumnus has entered a new dimension of human resources, and it's a magical experience: McComak recently joined The Walt Disney Company in Los Angeles as director, Enterprise Human Resources.
"I've wanted to work for Disney for as long as I can remember. It's a dream come true for me," McComak said.
He remembers one moment as an exciting career turning point, shortly after he graduated from USF: as an operations manager for AMC Theatres in the Orlando area, he supervised the opening of the company's flagship 24-screen theater in Downtown Disney on the resort. It's an experience he remembers as exciting and rewarding.
"We experienced the magic of Disney," he said.
His experience at AMC theatres, and particularly his time working on Disney property, influenced his later decision to move into human resources as well. Working with Disney, he saw how the company developed its engaging corporate culture. When, as a young man ready to move into his next job, he began to consider career paths beyond operations, he recognized his passion for the people side of business.
"One of the themes that I've learned over the course of my career is the importance of developing an expertise in something that you can sell or market," he said, adding that he knew he didn't want to be a doctor or lawyer, having explored those professions previously. "I asked myself, 'What appeals to me and how can I develop my niche and expertise?' "
McComak said USF helped to give him a working knowledge of management concepts. When deciding to move into the next phase of his career, he chose human resources as his focus, and he later bolstered his knowledge with a master's degree in human resources and change management from UCF.
"The knowledge I gained and the experience I had at USF was really impactful," he said.
McComak remembers one course in particular, where the class did live role-plays every week which were recorded. They had to watch the video and critique themselves. The scenarios included skills like coaching, giving feedback, interviewing and performance conversations – all valuable capabilities in the workplace, and particularly in human resources, he noted. He recalls the experience as "really painful, but also great learning."
McComak started his human resources management career in Orlando with Darden Restaurants as an employee relations manager for the southeast division of Red Lobster. The company relocated him to the New York City area as division recruiting manager for the northeast. Shortly after arriving in New York, his path led him to heading human resources for Alicart Group, the company that owns iconic restaurants Carmine's and Virgil's. After that experience, he moved to the beauty industry, where he worked for the luxury division of L'Oreal as human resources director.
"One of the things I feel is interesting about my story is that I moved to New York working for Red Lobster and ended up working for Christie's," he said, adding that he believes the diversity of his experience helped take him where he wanted to go on his career journey.
At Christie's, where he worked as vice president of human resources from early 2009 to the end of 2013, McComak dealt with the challenges and rewards of a global business – and enjoyed some experiences unique to working at Christie's, including being present for the sale of a Picasso painting and the Elizabeth Taylor auction which included her magnificent jewels. The company also trained him to be a charity auctioneer, and he served as the auctioneer at a number of high-profile fundraising events appearing on stage with celebrities including Alan Cumming, Sophia Bush, and Lorraine Bracco.
"I thought, this is my world? How did this happen?" he said.
Despite the obvious perks of working for a legendary company like Christie's, McComak said his job fulfillment came from the challenges of change management and from being able to help people become self-directed leaders.
"I've found a passion for coaching and developing others," he said. "I've learned a lot over the years, and part of my responsibility is to share that knowledge to help my colleagues find success. In turn, I learn from them as well."
That philosophy of coaching and developing others is one he plans to continue embracing in his human resources journey as he starts a new chapter with Disney. McComak said the piece of knowledge he would share with USF business students is that a successful career is about finding a passion and developing that capability into something of business value.
"The best advice I can share with college graduates: continually challenge yourselves to consider 'what is my expertise and how am I developing myself to be of value – to a company, to the community, to the world?'"